Home Lifestyle How a simple pair of knickers saved M&S’ street cred

How a simple pair of knickers saved M&S’ street cred


Millennials and Gen Z are loving the underwear from M&S. (Picture: marksandspencer.com)

M&S is a bit of a one-stop shop. Not only does it have food, homeware, menswear and womenswear, it’s also somehow managing to cater for several different demographics all at once.

It’s long been considered a favourite for middle-aged mums, but lately there’s been a seismic shift and the high street retailer has become… cool.

And it’s all thanks to knickers. Yes, really.

The retailer recently revealed that it’s had a £1billion sales boost, leading to its strongest performance since 1997 – and this was predominantly due to an increase in lingerie sales, with one in two women purchasing underwear from the high street staple.

The company has sold 60 million pairs of knickers over the last year, with women under the age of 30 accounting for a third of these sales.

This is double the amount of Millennial and Gen Z women who had purchased underwear from M&S in the previous year.

So how has M&S become the hottest place for young women to shop in?

If you ask M&S, they’ll tell you that it’s thanks to the ‘B by Boutique’ range, which features brighter colours and bolder patterns. The range launched in 2022 and saw a 16% increase in sales in the last 12 months.

The retailer has done a marvellous job of promoting the brand, teaming up with a number of popular social media influencers to create ‘cult’ must-buy items – and it doesn’t hurt that the prices are incredibly purse-friendly, starting from just £10.

But as all ladies will know, it’s not just the look that matters when it comes to underwear – comfort is also crucial. And stylist Bella Hignett thinks M&S has been nailing it when it comes to this.

‘Post-Covid I also think more under-30s are still wearing loungewear and work attire is more relaxed, which can lead to a desire to also wear more comfy underwear. You want bras and knickers that fit well and are comfortable and that’s what M&S does so well,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘The Rosie Huntington-Whiteley range is their most upmarket and sexy collection but it’s still affordable, wearable and comfortable. It has an increased selection of neutral classy tones. She has also branched out into sexy fitted loungewear which is a clear winner too.’

And M&S underwear has several other big benefits, according to Bella.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s underwear range at M&S has been a big hit. (Picture: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

‘M&S is one of the few retailers that makes underwear in all sizes which is also very attractive.

‘The quality of their underwear is trusted when so many fast fashion brands are getting lambasted for awful materials and working conditions. Going to M&S fees like you’re getting value for money and a quality, long-lasting, well-made, “honest” product.’

However, there’s much more to Marks & Spencer’s recent success with the younger generations than just this.

Rhea Freeman, an award-winning brand expert, says M&S has really ‘upped its game’ of late, and in addition to collaborations with the likes of Sienna Miller and Nobody’s Child, products such as bum-boosting pants and period pants that have helped ‘elevate’ the brand (and bottoms).

‘Their reputation has been realigned,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘They’ve gone from slightly frumpy to sexy and functional. A one-stop shop for whatever you need.’

The period pants have been a big seller for M&S, with 6,000 packs sold each week in 2023, as women became more conscious about finding sustainable menstrual products.

M&S also played a major role in getting the government to scrap the tax on period pants back in January, urging the treasury to see period underwear as essential menstrual products and not just garments.

This accomplishment won’t have gone unnoticed by Millennial shoppers who are the generation most interested in buying period pants, according to research by Mintel.

Stylist Roberta Lee, who has previously worked with M&S, says the retailer has also made several other ‘strategic’ changes to target younger shoppers, including ‘adopting a trend-based approach’ with products, and making ‘significant strides in promoting diversity and inclusion’ with their model choices.

But what’s particularly interesting here is that M&S has managed to entice Millennials and Gen Z to buy more through these changes, without losing their core demographic in the process.

M&S has made clever changes to its offering to attract younger shoppers, but still retains its core demographic. (Picture: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

‘M&S has worked really hard to change its image over the last few years – from quality aimed at middle-age and far beyond, to young and edgy but also wearable and affordable,’ explains Rhea.

‘Through this clever positioning, they’ve managed to nurture and maintain their reputation with their previous core demographic, while attracting new, younger people in too.’

Rhea claims the major turning point for the brand came when they teamed up with Holly Willoughby, who is well-known for her style.

‘At the time of their collaboration, Holly was on TV every day, she was very active on Instagram… and the media around this signing would have also generated a lot of extra column inches that would have gained extra reach for M&S.

‘Holly also styled the clothes differently, in a much more modern way, which connected to a younger group.’

She continues: ‘Since Holly, M&S has worked with other celebs who would be absolutely relevant to the under 30 demographic; from Radio 1 DJ Melvin Doom, to Binky Felstead, Sienna Miller, Jim Chapman, Molly-Mae and Tommy Fury. Many of these people advertise the clothing side, but also M&S Food, which continues to cement the brand overall as being relevant to younger people.

‘Their website, messaging and products have also evolved in-line with what younger people want, and have been more relevant than ever before. The way they’re styling products online too all supports this.’

The expert added: ‘Many brands who have built such a strong following (even one that until a few years ago wasn’t doing that well from a financial point of view) adopt a “we’ve always done this so we’ll carry on” mentality which can be the end of them, but M&S has really listened to what a younger audience wants through the products and the marketing, and embraced it.’

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